Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Antiquing in Wisconsin: Mixing machining & merchandising in Redgranite December 2, 2013

I RECOGNIZE THE SMELL. Grease and oil and dirt mingled. The odor hangs heavy inside Mike Schwochert’s machine shop along State Highway 21 in Redgranite, Wisconsin.

Inside Old Time Machine Inc.

Inside Old Time Machine Inc.

The shop smells of history and hard labor and of hours standing upon this cracked cement floor spotted with oil stains.

This place reminds me of the work my husband does as an automotive machinist, although Mike pursues a different type of machining, producing machined parts. He does drilling, boring, tapping, milling, tool and die production, welding and fabrication, and more.

The setting that drew me into the machine and antique shop scene.

The setting that drew me into the machine and antique shop scene.

It is the name of Mike’s business—Old Time Machine Inc—and the neon marker OPEN sign and the hodgepodge of furniture, glassware, gas cans and other items displayed outside the building that initially draw Randy and me here on a Friday afternoon in mid-October en route to Appleton to visit our daughter.

We backtrack, turn off the highway and skirt the backs of downtown Redgranite businesses to reach Old Time Machine because we’ve driven past it. Highway 21 is a crazy busy route through central Wisconsin, meaning it’s safer to do a turn-around rather than slam on the brakes.

Another view of Mike's machine shop.

Another view of Mike’s machine shop.

Inside this building, constructed in 1953, we meet Mike, the kind of guy who, just looking at him, you know will greet you with a welcoming warmth and friendliness that shows in his face, in his smile. It’s no surprise that he promises “excellence and precision in every job,” offers 24-hour emergency repair and works a second job in Appleton.

Madre's Antiques is in the front of the building and Mike's machine shop through the doorway into the larger back space.

Madre’s Antiques is in the front of the building and Mike’s machine shop (that’s Mike back there working) through the doorway into the larger back space.

And you might add third. On this afternoon, Mike is also manning Madre’s Antiques, his wife Christina Tsacudakis’ shop. She took over the former office, a small area at the front of the building that now holds an array of antiques and vintage collectibles.

A local collectible is among the offerings.

A Redgranite collectible is among the offerings.

I find plenty here that interests me such as vintage drinking glasses, a pheasant tray collectible my middle brother would appreciate and a gorgeous red and white enamel kitchen table.

In the white cupboard behind the table sits the small striped Pyrex bowl I purchased.

In the white cupboard behind the table the small striped Pyrex bowl I purchased sits on the second shelf.

I need none of these, But I scoop up a small unpriced striped Pyrex mixing bowl because, well, I collect and use old bowls.

When I ask Mike the price, he admits that he sometimes gets in trouble for underselling his wife’s unmarked merchandise. I buy the bowl for $2. I expect he will be reprimanded.

The fabulous reclaimed parts bins now hold antiques and collectibles.

The fabulous reclaimed parts bin, left, from the machine shop now holds antiques and collectibles.

It’s a charming spot, this cozy antiques store with a back shop parts cubby emptied, cleaned, repainted aqua marine and repurposed to hold merchandise. Small treasures tucked inside multi-sized cubes. Perfectly fitting for this place.

My first view of the shop as we approached from the west.

My first view of the shop, 250 W. Bannerman Ave., as we approached from the west.

Unlike many antique shops, I don’t feel overwhelmed here, but rather at home. Comfortable with the limited offerings, the lingering odors of oil and grease and grime, and the sense of small town history that prevails in this long-time machine shop, purchased in recent years by Mike.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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